Sunday, June 22, 2014

From Jew to Jew: Dear Sharon

This is my response to your article, “We are here to stay,” in The Times of Israel, June 22,  2014: I wrote to you privately – cousin to cousin - not expecting my words to be printed in an online publication or anywhere else; but since you chose to publish them, I take this opportunity to stand by my words and to explain those that I did not clarify well enough.If you choose to use these words in print, my name should follow. I will not hide from them. 

I did not say that I was an atheist (though many respectable people are). Rather, I do not presume to know whether God exists or if the idea of God was created by human beings or if God Himself/Herself chose to inculcate that idea within us. I certainly do not presume to know what God or G-d promises to the Jewish people anymore than I know what God might promise to any other people. As far as I am concerned we of the human race are all one people and any “promise” God might make to one people I have no doubt that His or Her goodness would extend that promise to all people. 

When Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped I was devastated – as you were -- devastated that this should happen and in my family’s – your family’s - neighborhood.  I felt as if those boys were my children, as much as you felt they were yours. Unlike you, I do not believe that prayer will bring those boys back to us. Good will and peace will bring them home. But Netanyahu and others seem bent on war and this is where I must clarify my words. I said “The whole world is looking for peace.” Here I was wrong. I do not believe that some like Netanyahu and Cheney, for instance, look for peace; rather, they seem to enjoy the fight. I do not. 

You write: "Perhaps those Jews in the US who do not believe in G-d and his promises to the Jewish people should not try to help us so much. Those who bless Israel will be blessed.”  Sharon, I am a secular Ashkenazi Jew, just as much a Jew as you are in your religiosity. My mother and your husband’s father - sister and brother - were just as Jewish in their secular thinking as you are in your religious thinking. Your late father-in-law, my Uncle Izzy, would be as appalled by what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians as my mother, Anna, was. I do not accept your telling me not to “try to help us so much.” Everyone must try, each in his or her own way. Jew and non-Jew alike. 

I am not a shul-goer, though I have tried that route-- to my leftist's mother’s surprise. What I see happening in American shuls and Temples, regardless of denomination, is an attempt to find identity through the state of Israel and the Law of Return. I do not feel that I have the right to make aliyah when I am not escaping prejudice. This is certainly not to say that there is no antisemitism here; there is, and in Europe and elsewhere. But the kidnapping had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not antisemitism; we are not in the midst of a Nazi Holocaust. 

My homeland is North America. I do not feel I have the right to usurp land that I do not need out of fear that there will be another Holocaust or because God “promised” me the land. To my mind, that is an absurd notion used to maintain power, not peoplehood. Human beings wrote the Torah. You are using a religious, i.e., fictitious dictum, to gratify your needs and fantasies about what our world should look like. And it is our world, all of ours. We must negotiate on all sides to make it work for all of us. The best thing about Judaism -  and it is mine whether I am religious or not - is chesed/kindness. I do not see chesed coming from you toward the Palestinians any more than I see it coming from them toward you. 

You write: “Hamas terrorists have not shown even one photo of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.” Has Israel shown photos of all the children the IDF has killed? I want Eyal, Gilad and Naftali home and well. I also do not want other children or you and the rest of my family in Israel to be so cavalier as to think you can go anywhere you want, as if there is no danger, as if you own all the land. 

You may not think this letter comes with love but I assure you it does. If I did not love you, your husband and his sister - my first cousins - and the rest, I would not be so upset. I loved your husband's mother, my Aunt Ruth, all the while I knew how religious she was and what her attitudes were. Uncle Izzy loved her too, and that is why their children went to Hebrew school. It was not just because of Ruth; Uncle Izzy went along with it, just as everyone in the family did - Orthodox, leftist, secular - because we loved Ruth and still do, her memory. We also love a lot of other people and want them all to live in safety. 

Sometimes people who live far from the problem can see more than those who live closest. You will not shut me out of the discussion; in fact, you have brought my Jewish voice to the fore when I did not think I had one.        
Love to you and the family,              

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing to Heal

I haven't been here in quite a while. I've been over at the Seattle P.I. writing for the blog Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View, as well as a few other places.

This week I was honored to be asked to write a guest blog for alzheimer', an important resource for the Alzheimer's community and I thought it important to post here as well as on the P.I. blog.

This short essay, Writing to Heal,  discusses my latest book Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer's, just out from Cave Moon Press. The book launch will be at the Elliott Bay Book Co. up on Capitol Hill, Tuesday July 1, 2014 at 7 pm. The reading is free and everyone's welcome. The more the merrier! I hope you'll be able to make it.

I have a lot on my mind about what's going on in the world so I'll be using this blog for other issues as well. For now, thanks for stopping by,


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Dear Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Diary & Poems" Publication Date, August 2013

Dear Friends,

I'm so happy to tell you that my essays and poems are finally appearing between the covers of a book, put together so beautifully by Douglass P. Johnson and Cave Moon Press. It has been my honor to work with this project in conjunction with Doug, and I hope you will join us for our launch. Champagne included (if allowed). Thanks for your support, Esther




Sunday September 8, 2013

3 P.M.

Published by Cave Moon Press, Yakima, WA., 2013

For more information, please visit



Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 26, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 26 - Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney, Last night

Seattle Arts and Lectures' Poetry Series, 4/25/13 


Be generous, she said
after rounds of stand-up applause
for the 10th grade WITS* poet
who read her poem
before Finney walked on stage
to more stand-up
from a Seattle audience
who made her feel,
she said, like a rock star.

Be generous she repeated.
Support your poets out loud.
Give them tools
to craft their work is
what Finney’s mother did
and her grandmother
and siblings
and her father too.
And then came Colleen McElroy
(in the audience)
who taught her excellence
and Lucille Clifton who,
finding the younger poet scrambling
and embarrassed at her door,
said:  Come on in child.
And then came Nikki Giovanni
whose own mother helped red-ink
Finney’s poems-in-progress.
and later paraded
them down the street.

Be generous, Finney said
support your kin
treat them as if
they are
already famous
so they 
to say
their poems
out loud.

Be generous,
so the poet
can tell
her stories.
and tell them

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

*Writers in the School

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 25, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 25 - "Accident"



The son and father
whose parents were killed
and wife and baby injured
by a drunk driver
across from the school yard
heard about the accident
on the news.
He had a hunch it was his family
and raced over to Harborview 
Hospital to find his life
was over
as he had known it.
Flowers line the curbside
along NE 75th
where the family's bodies
laid strewn across the street,
the drunk driver
leaning on a police car
and a first responder
so shaken he can't work
the district
for the next two weeks. 
When he returns,
the first call
he gets 
is from a
whose house
got egged. 
What a relief ,
his body
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

PoMo2013 - poem 24 - "To the Aspiring Poet"


Poems are to be
used in everyday life
is my answer to the aspirng poet
who wants to publish in the New Yorker
and nowhere else, except maybe a
peer-review journal that makes you wait
a year or more before a committee
decides your work
meets its editorial needs.


What this aspiring poet doesn’t know
is that poetry needs to sing in the rain
it needs to come alive in the middle of an afternoon.
It needs to dance 
in the dark
of night.

It’s not just the poet who needs
Poems have needs too.
They need to be outside
everyday, in the fresh,
or the stale, air.


This aspiring poet does the work of poetry. She writes .
She attends poetry gatherings and discusses her work
with other writers.
She reads in open mikes
and once in awhile
gives her own fifteen-minute readings.
She  keeps a journal of her days
and a notebook full of poems.
Most of all, she reads poetry, lots of poetry.
She doesn’t need a famous magazine to tell her she’s a poet.
She already is and shouldn’t hide her work
in envelopes waiting to be read.
Send them out, I tell her.
Or post them on a blog.


But if I post them on my blog, she says,
the journals won’t accept them.
That’s their loss, I tell her.
Besides, the world is changing
The publishing world is.
Famous is not what it used to be.


The poem is a vehicle for responding
to current events, to the goings-on around you.
Poetry-making need not be a closed network,
unless you participate in making it so.
Speak your poems now, I advise this poet.
People are waiting to hear you. 
I'm waiting to hear you. 

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 23- "Fifth Grade"

Fifth Grade
  If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.
                                                                     - David Foster Wallace

When I was in elementary school,
I got A+’s in Handwriting.
In fifth grade, the only student
who came close to me in that subject
was a boy named Barry.
I don't know
what happened
to Barry and his handwriting
but mine led me
to hours of anguish.
I’d get all the way to the end of a page
without making a mistake
and then
on the last line
if my cursive wasn’t just right
and if an erasure
to expose my imperfections
I'd have to re-start.
My sister said I made her crazy
watching me
to my 5th grade-pen pal.
And you know the envelopes
had to be perfect too (but that's
another story).

For class, I wrote my stories
over and over again
and I wrote with a #3 pencil,
as if I didn’t want anybody
to see what I was writing.

Mother kept telling me
to use #2 pencils,
but the print
didn’t look as pretty
on the page.

To make a long story short:
I got A+ in Handwriting,
but I didn’t turn
my work in
on time.

This led people to think I was slow.
- Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 22, 2013

PoMo2013- poem 22 - A Woman Is

Circa 1946

A woman is

her body of work
which is
her thinking
inside her


Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: ,

PoMo2013 Worth It - poem 21

Worth It

fight and fight
to stay alive
they die.
I don't get it.

If I believed
in God (for sure)
would my
questions be
the same?

On the other
the answers
don't matter.
It's the fight that's
worth it.
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

PoMo2013 "Call (My Baltimore) Sandy"

Today's To Do List

Call (My Baltimore) Sandy


Say hello to Sandy = half hour
Laugh with Sandy = one hour
Cry with Sandy = 15 minutes
Laugh with Sandy = half hour
Say goodbye to Sandy = 1 hour


Check your phone bill


-Esther Altshul Helfgott


Friday, April 19, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 19

Can't sleep

Even though I can't sleep
-  it's been hours -
the dog's snoring soothes me.

What's keeping me up
but a list of things:
Drunken drivers

Gas stations
in Washington,
Bad politicians,

Good things keep me up too:
The man at the diner 
who asked me out.
The library book 
I want to write in.
Tap dancing lessons.

My parents,
children ,
and siblings
The bowling
league I just

My book
coming out
this summer!

Life is good
because more people
are precious
than they are monstrous,
say the news

my dog's
warms mine.
I'll take her to the park--
if it doesn't rain.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Labels: ,

PoMo2013 - Poem 18

Artist Trust/Edge Reading

Seattle is a place to blossom as we turn the pages of our lives,    
an ideal place to grow into crone-hood.
                                       - Faye Reitman                                            

Eighteen cross-genre writers
reading five minutes each
take turns lavishing
personal idiosyncrasies
and tone
on a packed house
of language lovers.

I ask the woman sitting next to me,
tears streaming down her face.
why she's crying
and she says:

They're so good,
They've worked hard
and I'm proud of them.

I squeeze her hand
and the two of us hug
as if we knew
each other
long before

My friend Faye
up from California

I heard Seattle
was a reading town
But I didn't know
it was a place to blossom
in the basement of a book store
or on someone else's unseen page.
I think I'll move here.

And she did.
         -Esther Altshul Helfgott

PoMo2013 - Poem 17

Abe, Lisa & Hunter

Abe's Red Suspenders

He wore red socks too.
That's what caught my eye.
The red socks,
ski hat, and twinkly eyes.
He sat down next to me,
held out his hand
and said Hi.
I'm Abe.
What could I do
but shake his hand
and say Hi
back. Where you from,
he asked. Easy to tell
I wasn't from Seattle.
Baltimore, I said.
The Bronx, he announced
as if it were the center of the world
and it was to him, still,
albeit he'd been away from there
thirty years or more.

No coincidence we met
in a Jewish history class
at a neighborhood shul.
In Seattle, Jews
who never walked into a shul
before moving West
ended up in one just to hear familiar Ashkenazi sounds
to meet people who moved their hands when they talked -
I move mine a lot - so he liked me, not just for that
of course, but also because I liked his red socks
which I told him, and it made him smile.

At the time he wasn't wearing suspenders
but later, when we were married
at least ten years and he started wearing
them because his body was changing
and belts didn't work as well any more,
I liked them - those suspenders - too.
He's been gone almost three years now
and I still have the suspenders
but I threw the red socks out.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott